What do the Saginaw Township Hall, Arthur Hill High School, the Saginaw News building and the Montague Inn have in common? They’re all the work of Robert Frantz, one of our city’s best-known architects.
Frantz was born in 1894 in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. He studied under Dean Lorch at the University of Michigan, and in 1916, he received his bachelor of architecture degree. At the university, he met a talented young woman who was studying to be a landscape architect. She was Sarah (Sali) Stanley; they were married in 1918 and later had two children, Peter and Joan Frantz Meyer. Her biography appeared in the third edition of the Saginaw Hall of Fame book.
A few weeks after the wedding, Bob Frantz left for France to serve as a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery during World War I. The year in France gave him lifelong interest in that country and a desire to see the world.
Frantz returned to Michigan where he earned his master of architecture degree in 1919. An accomplished musician, he also played piano for the University Glee Club.
Thinking that Saginaw was an interesting community with opportunities for a young architect, Bob and Sali moved to Saginaw in 1920 where he worked for the firm of Cowles and Muttschler. Soon, he set up his own office in the Chase building, 116 N. Washington. His first big job was the imposing American State Bank— later Michigan National—at the corner of Lapeer and Genesee, which was inspired by the Strozzi Palace in Florence.
Another big job came in 1925 when he was called on to design a major addition to the First Congregational Church. It would be known as Bradley House and consisted of a large multi-purpose room, a kitchen, lounge, a new minister’s study and a handsomely furnished living room. The Detroit firm of Smith, Hinchman and Grills worked with Frantz as consultants; at the time, SHG was building Saginaw’s Second National Bank which was designed by Wirt C. Rowland, Frantz’s classmate and friend from the University of Michigan.
Late in 1925, Frantz teamed up with architect James Spence to form the firm of Frantz and Spence. Frantz did most of the designing while Spence handled specifications. It was a partnership that would last until 1960 when they split and went their separate ways.
While Bradley House was being built, it was found that the walls of the sanctuary were leaning. Frantz and Spence were hired to remodel the church which included shoring up the walls and tying them with steel girders. In 1957, Frantz and Spence would do another addition to First Congregational. This one involved a new Sunday school wing, and chapel. The Mary Dow house, which had been built next door to the church in 1936 by Midland architect Alden Dow, was ingeniously built into the church complex while retaining its individuality. Frantz and Spence did many schools in Saginaw, including Potter, Morley, Chester Miller and Handley.
When Handley was completed in 1928, the Frantzes went on the first of many trips, touring England and France. Later, they would go around the world, studying and photographing buildings and enjoying the various cultures in Japan, Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico and Europe.
In 1940, Frantz and Spence designed Arthur Hill High School—Saginaw High would follow in 1954. They also did factories and offices for GM and Baker Perkins.
Although Frantz and Spence did a wide variety of buildings, Robert’s son Peter, himself an architect, feels that his father’s forte was residential architecture. His houses, mostly in Colonial style, are in Bay City and Midland as well as many in Saginaw, including the Montague house in the Grove, the Arnold Lenz house in Golfside, the Dr. H. M. Bishop house on Superior, and the Schust residence on Schust Road. Frantz was even invited to Tryon, North Carolina, where he designed a house for the sister of Lady Astor.
Robert Frantz was active in many civic and social organizations. He was a member and president of the Saginaw Club and the Saginaw Rotary Club. He was also a member of the Bay City Country Club and the Belvedere Country Club in Charlevoix where the family enjoyed a summer house that had been built by Sali’s grandparents. Frantz was among the first presidents of the Saginaw Art Museum which he had remodelled when the Ring house was turned into a museum. He was on the City Planning Commission for 30 years and served as its president. As a member of the American Institute of Architects Frantz was named a fellow of that group in 1952. He and Sali belonged to the Saginaw Canoe Club where they were among its best tennis players.
Robert Frantz died in 1971 but his heritage lives on.
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